How it is – At Tate Modern, UK

Conviction with darkness

Polish artist Miroslaw Balka’s recent Unilever commission at the Tate Modern, engulfs the visitor/viewer in their own thoughts,  mild sense of adventure, and fear. The giant dark-grey structure stands on 2 metres stilts, 13 metres high and 30 metres long, resembling a massive steel cave.  “Visitors can walk underneath it, listening to the echoing sound of footsteps on steel, or enter via a ramp into a pitch black interior, creating a sense of unease.”

The work may be described as an anti-thesis of James Turrell’s light installations of geometrical perfection, hinting at subliminal bliss. Here, it is conceptually intriguing, but less so if you consider the collective experience of seeing it with running children and blisters of mobile phone light. We are more fearful of the dark than we think, or we are more reliant on artificial light than trusting our natural, adjusted vision. It can also be described as the industrialised version of Anish Kapoor, working with the negation of light. Kapoor “renowned for his enigmatic sculptural forms that permeate physical and psychological space” was also commissioned in the same Tate Modern Unilever series in 2003, in Marsyas (2002), “explored what he sees as deep-rooted metaphysical polarities: presence and absence, being and non-being, place and non-place and the solid and the intangible”. Darkness, and fear of it, are just as non-place, and intangible.

It also reminds me of Singapore artist, Heman Chong’s plants (2008), consisting of a darkened corridor with black painted artificial plants. Plants is deliberately barely lit, provoking a struggling vision or comprehension of global destruction and the due detrimental effects afflicted by people. You may interpret the trees as dying, or overwhelmed by nuclear radiation, fried, by mankind, into charred-ness. That is how it is.

There is a sense of resignation with the title of the work. That is how it is. A tone of matter of fact accepting one’s fate. We can be led to be convinced, by artificial darkness — a metaphor perhaps for ignorance — is actually a circumstance we can choose to walk out from. Or it was something we chose to walk into in the first place. The work, in it’s powerful scale and dimension echos more than participatory running footsteps and blinks of light.

Read about How it is and a documentary at, accessed Feb 18, 2010.

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